Using IT to address the federal talent shortage

Better systems and talent science can help agencies fill vacancies faster -- and avoid making the wrong hires.

gears on diagram

According to the Office of Personnel Management, nearly two-thirds of government's career senior executives will be eligible to retire by 2016, and similar trends can be seen throughout the federal workforce. As the impending retirement of the “baby boomer” generation looms, a shortage of skilled government employees is expected to occur over the next few years. Without a capable workforce, agencies will be limited in their ability to execute day-to-day tasks, serve citizens and keep critical mission functions running as they should.

The issue of mass retirement is not the only concern for government entities when it comes to recruitment. A 2010 study by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton suggests that nearly 25 percent of new federal hires leave their jobs within the first two years, and a more-recent OPM study found that the median employee tenure is 3.8 years. While the reasons behind this churn are still being explored, the immediate impact is costly and significantly reduces an agency’s capacity to provide essential services.

Another factor to consider is the difficulty associated with filling critical-skill positions. Employees with unique skills and specific expertise are not easily replaceable, meaning that more time and resources must be dedicated to the recruiting and selection process.

In the face of these challenges, a new approach to hiring and onboarding is necessary to help reduce turnover and fill open positions quickly and efficiently. By applying talent science principles and technology to human capital management processes, agencies can create a completely new model to choose the right employee for the right job.

Talent science is a predictive, analytics-based approach used to select and develop employees. A relatively new concept in the federal space, talent science relies on behavioral and performance data to determine the candidate most likely to succeed in a position. Unlike a standard personality assessment, talent science evaluates 39 behavioral, cognitive and cultural traits to create a profile for each applicant. By first testing a large sample of existing employees, an optimal pattern that predicts an employee’s likelihood of success in their particular role can be established. Then, all future candidates can be compared to this model to help pinpoint which individuals are a best match for the agency and position.

By utilizing talent science, government organizations can save time and resources by reducing turnover and its associated costs. Agencies can also create a higher-performing workforce by ensuring that employees have not only the necessary skills, but the right demeanor and attributes to thrive in their new roles. This is particularly important in the public sector, where many jobs -- such as foreign service officers or political advisors -- call for a specific type of individual that is not easily found or replaced. Talent science takes the guesswork out of hiring -- decision-makers can rely on data and analytics, not just points on a resume, to clearly identify the best candidate who will excel within both the position and that agency’s culture.

Imagine, for example, that the Census Bureau is looking for a new statistician to help analyze social and economic data. Rather than sorting through a multitude of applicants who fulfill all of the basic requirements, then interviewing a select few and making a decision based on mere hours of face-to-face interaction; talent science would pinpoint candidates that are best suited for the role using an online assessment. The technology would also generate interview questions for each applicant based on responses, allowing managers to delve further into areas that could potentially affect the candidate’s performance. Overall, talent science would help to speed the process and enable a better-informed decision.

Congress is currently deciding whether to pass the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act during the lame-duck session as part of the Defense authorization bill. FITARA, while not about hiring, is designed to encourage smarter use of technology across the board to help government enhance services and save money.

Regardless of whether FITARA becomes law this year, leaders should embrace that mindset -- which is directly applicable to the existing workforce dilemma.

Hiring the wrong people only hinders the government’s efforts to address the impending talent shortage. With talent science technology, agencies can not only experience financial gains, but they can also encourage and solidify the public’s trust in government by creating an effective, well-equipped workforce.

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